Monday, November 28, 2005

California dreaming, on such a winter's day.

It has been noted that travel broadens the mind, but not all trips are equally meaningful; it’s a rare weekend cruise that can change the trajectory of a life (and if it does, most likely the change had less to do with the cruise and more to do with a boyishly handsome man swaying to “Margaritaville” at the chocolate fountain). Some trips, however, force you to reconsider what you have always taken for granted, leaving you a deeper and wiser person.

So it was with my trip to Malibu to see Gregory Popovitch and his fifteen trained performing housecats.

To begin, a clarification: Los Angeles is not a city. I know it is a city by legal definition, and perhaps a dozen or so people in the bowels of City Hall think of it as a city, but it’s not a city. Los Angeles is a loose confederation of about forty principalities which view their neighbors with fear and confusion. Periodic border wars break out between Santa Monica and Venice. West Hollywood has been known to lob Scud missiles into Burbank’s air space. I exaggerate, but not by nearly enough. I have a friend who swears she has never been east of La Cienega. This means she has never seen about 2/3 of L.A. The parochialism goes both ways; the East side types view driving west of Fairfax as an invitation to be dragged from their cars and forced into Banana Republic khakis while their cars are stripped of old Germs tapes to be replaced with Josh Groban CDs.

Partially due to its size, partially due to our completely anemic public transport system [which leads to everyone driving, which leads to soul-crushing traffic, which is another reason in itself], and partially due to the general time-crunching nature of life in the 21st century, most people living in Los Angeles don’t explore Los Angeles. If you see someone driving around looking at the buildings, they are from out of town. People go to museums to meet people they met online. Beaches are mostly where we stash our insane and/or chemically-dependant citizens.

And then there is Malibu.

Malibu is a place with absolutely no sense of proportion. The scenery isn’t just lovely; it’s perfect -- except during the fires and mudslides, which are biblical in their scope. The discretionary income isn’t merely large; it could fund malaria treatments in up to twenty developing nations -- which is something best not to dwell on as you window shop on the Coast Highway. The people aren’t lovely; half of them are the physical definition of beauty -- the other half are the definition of what kind of bank statement it requires to breed with the physical definition of beauty.

Malibu is proudly inconvenient; it seems to derive perverse pleasure in having only two major routes of entry, both of which have been known to close due to the aforementioned fires or mudslides. If Gregory Popovitch had brought his amazing trained housecats anywhere into Los Angeles proper, I would have left Malibu to the locals and the Malibu fire department, as Nature intended. But, apparently, the cats work best with the tang of salt in the air, and Malibu was our only option.

Knowing my daughter as well as I do, I didn’t tell her about this ahead of time, because the shriek of joy would have been deafening to the neighbors and the steady drip of “Is it Sunday yet?” would have been beyond tolerating. I decided it would be fun not to tell her until we got to the theater. This fabulously ill-conceived idea meant over an hour of unrelenting backseat prodding while I drove through Malibu Canyon on a glorious, blue-sky autumn day.

“Give me a hint.”

“You’ll see when we get there.”

“Are we going to see a movie?”

“I told you, I’m not giving you a hint.”

“So it’s not a movie.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“It’s a movie! Yeah!”

“I didn’t say that.”


“Are we going to see Elizabeth?”

“Do we ever drive this way to see Elizabeth?”

“Are we going to see Elizabeth at someone else’s house?”


(Long, sullen pause)

“Does it start with a vowel?”

After thirty minutes, all I wanted to was drink heavily and blurt out the details, but all that would have told her was that

(a) we were going to see trained housecats
(b) It takes a half-hour of badgering to get Mommy to do your bidding, and neither of us needed that fact out in the open.

When Daughter and I finally arrived in Malibu and alit from the car at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a restorative interlude, the first person I saw was a reasonably well-known model/actress and her small child, and I felt gratified. I imagine it’s like going on safari in Kenya; there’s no guarantee you’ll see giraffes lazily pulling leaves off the banyan tree, but you’d feel gypped if you didn’t, right? A Malibu visit without seeing someone who has graced a “Sports Illustrated” cover feels…hollow. I noted she was wearing flip-flops. Malibu has the distinction of adding the concept of “Holiday flip-flops” to the American fashion consciousness, right up there with “Formal Uggs”.

I pondered this further as Daughter gnawed her chocolate-covered graham cracker and I sipped my green tea. At the table next to me was a woman and what appeared to be her daughter. One of them had highlighted hair, cut-off mini-skirt, pink Uggs, tank top and a leather jacket. The other one had highlighted hair, cut-off mini-skirt, blue Uggs, tank top and a leather jacket. I estimated the daughter to be twelve and the mother to be forty, at least (between the uniform tan and the Botox, the mother appeared to have achieved an armed truce with aging). Malibu’s municipal code, I decided, decreed that all women should be eighteen; anyone not actively trying to be confused for Hilary Duff is taken to the Ventura County line, stripped of her thousand-dollar Balenciaga Hobo bag and shoved into the nearest Sizzler.

My friend, the middle-aged teenager, was talking intently to someone on her pink, crystal-covered cell phone. Being as I am nosy, I listened in.

“…so I asked someone working there ‘Like, what time do you close?’ and she was all, ‘Excuse me, we never close’ and I was, like, shocked…You could get whatever you wanted there. Food, clothing, prescriptions filled, and everything was so cheap!...I asked her if they were here in California, and she was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Turns out, they’re everywhere. The guy who started them wrote a book or something...”

No, it couldn’t be.

It wasn’t possible.

This Malibu maven was illuminating her friend about this marvelous new find called WAL-MART!

My feelings about Wal-Mart notwithstanding, how shielded do you have to be before you haven’t heard of the largest store in the world? This isn’t the insulating properties of wealth, either; I’m guessing Bill Gates would recognize Sam Walton’s emporium if he stumbled in by accident. No, this is small-town parochialism at its worst. Small-town insularity wearing a six-carat yellow diamond for a Sunday afternoon soy latte.

We got back into the car and made the final leg of the journey to the theater. The show had a marvelous lack of logic; there was juggling, then trained dogs, and then Mr. Popovich’s teenage daughter twirling many Hula Hoops and hopping around on one foot. The final third of the show was the long-awaited housecats, and They Were Something. They wore frilly collars without obvious complaint. There wasn’t a hairball in sight. They didn’t appear to be drugged. Considering how Lulabelle and I are currently negotiating the degree to which she is allowed to attack my foot when I’m sleeping, it was humbling to realize how someone of my species had the patience and cunning to convince fifteen cats to do his bidding in Rockettes-like synchronization.

Daughter screamed with joy and laughter for the entire show, and then respectfully patted one of the frilly-necked feline stars out front. All in all, it was a wonderful evening. We stepped out into the perfect Malibu night and waited for the shuttle to take us back to our car. Daughter grabbed my hand and pointed at the night sky.

“Mommy, what are all of those?”

“Those are stars, honey.”

“We don’t have that many.”

I thought about explaining the idea of light pollution, but changed my mind.

“You’re right. Malibu has stars and Persian cats that can jump through hoops.”

Daughter reminded me, “Chocolate cookies, too” and sighed in pleasure.

We packed our bags and passports, tipped the bellboy, and headed home.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

All of you wonderful people out there in the dark.


Do you listen to Podcasts?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Veggie Tales

I walked around for two weeks with a recipe for Zucchini and Orzo in my purse and I have no idea why. It’s not as if I was reverse-mugged and someone left it in my bag. I actually read the recipe in a magazine and tore it out while thinking “Dinner in fifteen minutes, that’s convenient!” I should have been thinking, “There are many things I find unappetizing which I can make in fifteen minutes. I bet if I looked hard enough, I could find a recipe for socks in cream sauce which only takes fifteen minutes.”

I think of zucchini not as a delicious vegetable, but as something unpleasant which can happen to your yard if you aren’t vigilant. Oh crud, the zucchini’s back. Someone grab me the Round-Up. Please don’t tell me about your delicious zucchini bread recipe; if I mixed walnuts, two kind of sugar, cinnamon and raisins with a long-tailed skink it would taste good. The zucchini is just riding on the coattails of more delectable ingredients.

Also, at least one member of our household is currently cutting back on his carbohydrates, so pasta is pretty much verboten. In short, this recipe had two major ingredients and I had issues with both. And yet, I tore it out. Since then, each time I visit the grocery store, I remove from my purse a wrinkled and increasingly illegible reminder that things are going to be different between me and zucchini.

Being as I don’t eat meat and -- with rare exceptions -- haven’t since I was 14, I have developed a comprehensive history with vegetables [as my carnivorous friends refer to them: Those Things Next to My Lamb Chops]. I daresay I have eaten all of the major vegetables of the world in one way or another. I have had them steamed, fried, sautéed, raw with dipping sauce, pureed and arranged to look like corsages. If you can legally do it to a vegetable, I have seen it on my plate. Some I have always loved. Some I have grown to love. Some I have grown to like. Some I eat not because I find them appealing at all but because they are filled with antioxidants (Kale, I’m looking at you).

But there are some vegetables I simply do not like, and twenty years of drizzling olive oil over them and piling mashed potatoes under them has not changed my opinion one iota. For the sake of the magazines at Doctor’s offices, I have to accept there is no recipe which will turn these around for me. So, today, in honor of Thanksgiving, I will bid a not-fond farewell to:

OKRA: A vegetable where the highest compliment it gets is, “This is much less slimy than usual!” And don’t try to bring up jambalaya; that’s just okra sliding in under the cover of an andouille sausage, a deeply flavored roux, and a culture which puts a wine list next to your breakfast order.

BEETS: If I need the flavor of a beet, I’ll save myself the effort of preparation and just lick a crosswalk light. Really, how much iron flavoring is one person supposed to enjoy? Even with mild anemia, the sight of a beet salad fills me with despair. I'd rather be pale than eat a beet.

PEAS: This one is complicated and perhaps should not be on the list. I like raw peas and I like Chinese snow peas, but I hate cooked peas with such a passion that my loathing negates whatever good feelings I have about their less odious cousins. There is something about the mushy yet vaguely belligerent texture that reminds me of a person who bumps into you, apologizes meekly, then mumble something like “Dumbass” as he walks away. Hey, dude, either say it to my face or wait until I am out of earshot. Hey, peas, either completely succumb to my teeth or make a real fight of it. Collapsing upon contact with my fork, only to wedge yourself between my front teeth is just passive-aggressive. I don’t like it in a pedestrian, and I won’t take it in a legume.

Of course, if I am coming to your house and you are serving these things, I’m just kidding. Really. Don’t put yourself out. Nothing like a composed beet salad, followed by Okra Five Ways, with a side dish of Double-Cooked Pea Casserole to thrill my epicurean palate.

Now, on a completely unrelated topic, you have big napkins, right?

Or a dog?

Happy Thanksgiving. On the shockingly long list of things I am thankful for, readers who read me, write me and come back for more are up there. I'll try to keep making it worth your while.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blue Bayou

Some apologies are in order.

Victoria, you are a dear friend and a great dame. I’m sorry I hung up on you three times in ten minutes.

Jill, you are a dear friend and a great dame. I’m sorry for shouting “WHAT? CAN YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU HEAR ANYTHING AT ALL?” at you.

Consort, you are not a great dame, but I think you’re fine with that. I’m sorry that while reaching into my purse to turn on my iPod I also hit “Redial” on the phone. It can’t improve our relationship for you to have heard my a capella interpretation of “Son of a Preacher Man” in its entirety.

As usual, my freakish lack of skill with electronic objects means one more labor-saving and stress-reducing tool has reduced me to tears and kicking. I have no one to blame but myself. I had to write a blog bragging I had owned the same cell phone since the Earth was being formed (three years). Within a week of crowing over such frugality my phone started to make a noise. Initially, the noise wasn’t the problem; when you’re cheap, a death rattle from a mobile phone is just something to talk over or, whenever possible, incorporate into the conversation:

QUINN ON THE PHONE:…I told them we needed at least six weeks’ run-up time for a manufacturing change, and he said -

PHONE: Vaguely intestinal sound, followed by a hoot and then an assertive beep.

QUINN ON THE PHONE: - Add an obscenity to that, and that’s pretty much it.

Annoying but manageable. After a few days, though, the phone just simply stopped working. I couldn’t get it to turn on at all. I tried the strongest tool in my arsenal of repair; I hit it against my open hand. Oddly, this failed to fix it so I went to my fall-back therapy: the charger. I put it in the charger and left it there for three days, assuming the problem had been caused because the charger wasn't working very efficiently. If anyone is thinking about offering me a position as head of an Intensive Care Unit, I want you to reconsider.

(A body, covered in a sheet, is being rolled out of a hospital room . Quinn, walking down the hallway, accosts the orderly.

QUINN: What are you doing?

ORDERLY: Taking him down the morgue.

QUINN: Did you ever stop to think he might just be breathing really slowly and shallowly?

ORDERLY: Uh. The doctors worked almost an hour trying to bring him back.

QUINN: Two words: Heavy. Sleeper. Put him back in that room and order him some breakfast. He’s going to be fine.

Back to the phone. After three days being force-fed voltage, the phone still refused to rise from the dead. It was hot to the touch but it still wouldn't make a call. I broke down and went to Verizon where it was established the battery was fine -- the unspoken implication being, of course, everything else on the phone was not only dead, but starting to smell. I wistfully inquired about repairing the phone, only to have my sales-drone laugh at me in a not-entirely unkind way. It seems repairing a phone of such antiquity would be about as practical a suggestion as heart surgery on an elderly hamster.

I caved.

I bought a new phone.

Considering the only telephonic device as obsolete as my old phone is now on display in the Smithsonian, this was already a quantum leap. But I didn't just acquire a new phone, I upgraded. I got a Bluetooth phone.

Yes, I have chosen to become one of those jerks walking around with what appears to be piece of the Skylab dangling from my ear. I was prepared to go through life as I had always gone through life, jamming my phone into my shoulder to talk to people, but a couple of things occurred to me:

1. My cervical vertebrae are starting to make noises I associate with Jiffy Pop. Neck-cradling my phone several hours a day can’t be helping.

2. If I can talk without having to wedge the phone into my clavicle this also might increase my ability to pay attention to what’s going on around me, and that would mean walking into mailboxes less often. Instead, I would become one of those people who appear to be ranting to themselves. Weighing the relative costs of a bruised ego and a bruised shin, a worthwhile trade-off.

I returned home with a densely packed bag of gizmos, all of which promised freedom from want and back pain... Just as soon as I managed to open the Seal of Eternity used on all electronic devices (and My Little Pony boxes).

The next morning, I left the house a proud owner of a state-of-the-art phone and a dangly-ear thingy. I turned to shut the front door and my Bluetooth sprung from my ear and bounced along the pavement. I replaced the Bluetooth, got Daughter to the car and leaned over to unlock the door only to see the Bluetooth make another break for it, this time into the street.

This was starting to look deliberate. I don’t know what Bluey was hoping for in an owner, but I was clearly not it. Apparently, death was preferable to having to transmit my fund-raising entreaties. I took the earpiece off and put it in my pocket, where it struggled but remained trapped.

Of course, this now meant that every time the phone rang, I would automatically unhook the phone from my waistband (taking five seconds to remember how to undo the latch) and say, “Hello?”, only to hear some very faint “Hello?” in response.




And then it would occur to me, Bluey! I must talk into and listen through earpiece! This would entail frantic seconds of mildly obscene fumbling in my own pocket shouting “HOLD ON, I’M FINDING MY THINGY!” in the direction of my lap while avoiding the glances of strangers. I would finally locate Bluey, affix it to my ear, realize it was upside-down, reattach it, turn it on…

and disconnect the phone call.

The voice-recognition tool and I aren’t having such a grand time of it either. I don’t believe I mumble more than the average person and I don’t think my needs are excessive, but Bluey and I are simply not communicating. In fact, we might need some kind of counseling.

I tap my earpiece and Bluey's voice says brightly, “Say a command”.

I answer crisply, “Call”.

The phone parries with, “Signal strength high.”

Well, okay. Glad to know that you’re feeling up to this. Can we call someone?


“Say a command.”

Is this because I didn’t say please? Because I thought that would just confuse you, Bluey.

“Call Amy.”

“Did you say call Cleve?”


“Did you say Wendy?”


“Sorry, no listings for Andy.”

I miss my old phone. Sure, it was ugly, but it had a certain homespun appeal and a real personal integrity. We had developed the kind of relationship that only comes after years of commitment. This new one is all high heels and fluffy hair, but Bluey is a lot of work. Her accessories are pricey and she’s incredibly high-strung. She’s already hinting about us spending Christmas in Aspen with her friends.

The worst thing is, I think she’s seeing other people and letting them play with her address book.

I don’t know anyone named Cleve.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Key Party

I can raise both of my eyebrows simultaneously. I appear to have the same degree of fine motor control I have always possessed. My speech, while largely inconsequential, remains ungarbled. And yet I think I’ve had a stroke. Or, more accurately I choose to believe I’ve had a stroke because it is less embarrassing than the alternative.

Sunday, Consort and Daughter went off to run errands and then visit my mother while I stayed home and attempted to write. In case you’re curious, my attempting to write bears an uncanny resemblance to me browsing through vintage hairpin websites. After a couple of hours, the only thing I had accomplished was resolving that I was, in fact, too old to wear a ceramic cat in my hair. At which point I glanced at the clock and realized I needed to leave to pick up Daughter from her Nana time. I gathered my purse, my cell phone, my iPod, and my keys.

Where are my keys?

Methodically, I took apart the entire house. Thanks to years of daily practice, I have a certain knack for second-guessing my own weird missing-key hiding spots but the Christmas ornaments carton yielded nothing but an unfamiliar bathing suit; the woodpile offered up only a tiara; and the low metal storage cabinet (which some people refer to as an oven) grudgingly gave up a lone ankle weight, but nothing else.

Then, suddenly it occurred to me. Consort and I had gone to a neighborhood party yesterday afternoon and Consort had returned home first. He had taken my keys to get into the house. Consort had my keys! Consort had my keys…with him!

No problem.

I called him, got his voice-mail and left a cheerful message along the lines of, “Hi, I think you have my keys, you handsome lunatic. Pick up your kid, come home, and give me my keys so that I might roam freely. Love you.”

I drifted back to the computer and stared at more hairpins, confident in the knowledge he would call back in a minute or two. Consort’s relationship with the phone is passionate verging on the unsettling. (He swears it’s a platonic relationship.) Even if its ringer were set to mute, it would loyally vibrate on his hip, he’d see the home number and call me right back.

A half-hour passed. Having become bored with hairpins, I became all too educated on Bakelite bracelets. This might have been useful if I liked bracelets. Or Bakelite. But I don’t.

I left a new message, “Hi, I still need my keys, can’t pick her up without my car. Call me as soon as you get this, we’ll figure out the rest of the afternoon.” I suspect my tone wasn’t as winning as the first message.

As I waited, I made one exceptionally thorough pass around the house, both inside and out. I got down on the ground to look under the car, in case I’d dropped them while leaving. I crawled along the ground around the garage, in case Consort dropped them while leaving.

Twenty minutes later I left a third message. For the purpose of keeping my blog family-friendly, I will not relate it exactly. Suffice to say, I was very anxious to hear from him. I felt some agitation that Consort had not had the sense to make sure he didn’t have my keys when he left the house. I might have used words like You always, You never, and I’m not keeping score, but…

Feeling like a battery hen, I hung up the phone. Without my keys, I was trapped. Without car keys, I couldn’t pick up my kid. Without house keys, I couldn’t leave the house for a nice head-clearing walk. I paced the living room a few times, but it really wasn’t the same. On circuit #3 of the House Tour, I spied my purse and thought, “The first thing he’s going to ask when he finally stops pilfering my mother’s Halloween candy and turns his phone back on is whether I looked in my purse. Well, I’ll just show him, I’ll be able to say ‘Ha ha ha, Mister Smarty-Shorts, I just looked in my purse and they weren’t there!’

I crouched down to look in the purse and while I was thoroughly checking any possible crevice, no matter how small, I began to feel a certain weight in my hip pocket and something sharp digging into my leg. I put my hand into my pocket, slowly, gently, deliberately.

And pulled out my keys.

I had put them there at some point, and then promptly forgot. I crawled around on the ground, looking under the car, and didn’t feel them. I lay down on the ground to check under the dresser, and didn’t feel them.

I sat at the computer for an hour and didn’t feel them.

And you know the worst part? From now until the day one of us dies, every time I accuse Consort of taking something, he’s going to look at me dripping with absolute composure and ask, “Have you checked your pockets?”


I can only hope my stroke eventually affects his memory.

Friday, November 11, 2005


First, I shall speak of the incident.

Then, I shall speak of the noise.

I have not owned jeans in two years. This is not because I belong to a religious faction that believes it is sinful for women to wear rivets. It is because I resent paying over a hundred dollars for clothing I will use to wipe yogurt off my fingers, and cheap jeans make me look like a teamster; a teamster wearing a weight belt.

But last month, I learned of a jeans label made with organic cotton. Cotton-growing uses the greatest percentage of pesticides in agriculture, and while my single purchase won’t bring back all the little birdies and butterflies, this seemed like a good way to support a worthwhile enterprise. Also, the jeans made my butt look good and the waistband wasn’t so low everyone would know I had a Caesarian. So, I rejoined the jeans-wearing universe again with one simple swipe of my credit card.

One of the benefits of shopping at an overpriced boutique -- besides listening to a twenty-seven minute song whose only lyrics were “I’d get the kinkajou, but you have the car” chanted over and over in French -- is that they hem your pants for free. Since I was looking at six extra inches of fabric, I either had to accept denim flippers as a fashion statement or get them taken up. I asked for them to be hemmed, and the girl asked sweetly, “Are those the shoes you plan to wear with the jeans?”

I stared down and dithered. The jeans are day pants, so…loafers. Loafers, yes.

My loafers are horrible and worn-out and will soon be replaced by another pair which will be equally practical and middle-aged. Wearing them with hip jeans would say: Waistband to ankles, I’m with the band. Ankles to ground, I’m the band’s accountant’s receptionist.

Loafers, no.

Ballet slippers are cute. I hem the jeans for them and I can wear any kinds of flats. Ballet flats, yes.

I go through shoes like Sherman went through Georgia. An hour after I put them on for the first time, any flats I wear look like crepes which have been run over by an RTD bus.

Ballet slippers, no.

This leaves me with…cowboy boots. Cowboy boots can be trendy in the bad way and the cheat of short men everywhere, but at least I don’t destroy them in under and hour and they don’t remind most people of an elderly Aunt, so…

“No, I plan to wear them with boots.”

Now, was that so hard?

“Oh, then you’re going to want to come back with the boots.”

My schedule only brings me to this neighborhood one day a week, but heck, I’ve waited two years for jeans, I can go another few days.

Of course, the next week, I couldn’t find parking anywhere nearby. The week after that, Daughter was ill and I stayed home. Finally, in week three, I made it back, jeans in one hand and cowboy boots in the other. A sales girl grabbed a cloth strawberry full of pins and headed towards my feet. We spent the next fifteen minutes determining the ideal dénouement of the denim.

“How about here?”

“A touch shorter, please.”


“A breath shorter in the back, fine in the front.”


“Let me walk around in them.”

People have settled on a wedding dress with less analysis but, at last, they were perfect. I peeled out of them carefully so as not to disturb the pins, put my non-denim boot-cut pants over the cowboy boots and tucked the receipt in my wallet. They’d be ready in a week.

The week passed and I made a special detour to recover them. I was so excited, I slipped them out of their plastic garment bag, placed them in the passenger seat and kept peeking at them at stop lights. I was especially impressed by the workmanship of the new hems and would wonderingly touch the seams, amazed at how they didn’t appear to have been taken up at all. This is a big deal with me. I know I’m short. Anyone standing next to me knows I’m short. But nothing says short quite like a glaringly visible alteration. It fairly screams, “This person is just like a human, ONLY MUCH SMALLER.”

On the other hand, this hem job said quite the opposite. It announced to the world, “This person is so close to the physical ideal that she put these on in the store and was able to walk out in them.”

I restrained myself from finding a quiet street and changing into them right there in the car. Once home, however, the front door had barely closed before I was tugging on my environmentally responsible, perfectly tailored, two-years-and-one-month-in-the-making pants. I zipped up and looked down, puzzled. The pants were not breaking across my instep and delicately kissing the top ridge of my cowboy-boot heel. The pants were extending past my toes into blue denim lap pools.

The reason the stitching appeared so pristine was that it was pristine. The hems hadn’t been touched. Perhaps someone in a back room figured removing the pins and putting the jeans in a garment bag made the kindly alteration fairies remove six inches off the bottom, but these pants had been touched by no sewing machine. I stared at myself in the mirror. And then I cried out:


Let me explain how to pronounce that. It’s somewhere between “gAhNh” and “gHrEh” and it doesn’t work unless you put an exclamation point on the end. I have come to notice I use that sound to stand in for the entire phrase, “How can someone be that stupid and not just fall down all the time?”

Let this not be taken as judgment of others. I generate “GEHNH!” moments with maddening regularity. For example, I have had my car for nine years. In all that time, I have used a full-service gas station no more than twice. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Consort has filled the gas tank twenty times. So, it is safe to say I do most of the gas station time.

The minute I see that gas gauge tickle the red E I start to feel dread:

“…OK. The last time I went to that station I was facing the freeway, which means it’s on…my side. Unless…that was the time I had to move because I got the wrong side… Okay, I think it’s on my side, so it’s probably on the other side. Unless…I have finally started to remember the correct side…Or I’m remembering the
rental truck. Did I put gas in the rental truck? Was that the one which was under the license plate? Or was the license plate gas tank my mother’s car when I was eight?...”

As if that isn’t bad enough, once I finally do commit to a pump and determine the inevitable, which is that the gas tank is on the other side, I then turn around, go to another pump…

And discover I have arranged my car so the tank is still on the wrong side.

Many a “GEHNH!” has been heard under the punishing glare of a gas station’s fluorescent lights.

Also, grocery shopping has “GEHNH!” potential all over it. Let’s say I need canned pumpkin for a holiday pie. Since I’m going to the store anyway, I also note that I need anti-perspirant, food for a weeks worth of Daughter’s school lunches, sponges, butter and an extension cord. Once at the grocery store, I grab a few other things which look useful or pleasing. I also make quick side trips to the dry-cleaners and the video store. With gas at almost three dollars a gallon, side trips take on new significance, especially when justifying the cost of environmentally friendly jeans.

Back home, I unpack the various items, and commence to making the interrupted recipe, only to determine that I didn’t buy canned pumpkin. I reluctantly concede neither the sponges nor the extension cord will make an appealing pie filling so…I’m heading back to the store.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Mama's Got A Brand New Bag

Back when I was young and giddy, I had many requirements for a new purse. It had to be cute – cute, in the world of the purse, means having a mildly impractical color or fabric with some superfluous dangling bits. It had to have a reasonable price – if it was too expensive I would only wear it in the closet, and only when everyone was out of the house. It also had somehow to make my legs appear longer. Needless to say, I spent entirely too much time looking for purses.

Now I am old and bitter, and I have one purse. I took it in to be repaired recently, and the cobbler stared at the weathered straps, the darker marks from where my sweaty little hand has clutched it, the stains of unknown origin splattered here and there. He pointed to a line of splashed red dots marching down the side.



He nodded and gave me his estimate for cleaning. I blanched.

“Well,” he said, a touch defensively. “If you go years between cleaning, it takes a lot of work to get it back into shape.”

I stood up straighter, a protective hand on my maligned leather security blanket.

“I got this purse nine months ago.”

Obviously, he’d never seen a real mother’s purse before.

The purse had entered my life unexpectedly. This past Christmas, we were parked on a fairly busy street moving packages in and out of the in-law’s house, when an opportunistic rat took advantage of the general holiday chaos (and our unlocked car) to boost my purse and wallet. In case you’re curious, December 27th is a fabulous day to get your driver’s license replaced. But as stressful as replacing the credit cards and essential IDs, the thing that really floored me was having to think about a new purse.

The purse had to be a neutral color, because I no longer have the inclination to change purses daily (that part of my brain is now taken up with whether or not Daughter has eaten carrots recently).

It had to be able to hold at least two books, one for me and one for Daughter, for those times we arrive early.

It had to be able to hold the random objects Daughter and I accrue throughout the day. Generally, the contents of my purse resemble the end of a scavenger hunt (lollipop stick, unused Dora the Explorer band-aid, one expired AAA battery, three expired coupons, English/Tagalog dictionary, etc.).

And it had to do all these things without making me look even more disheveled than usual.

It took a week of shopping – a week during which a patent-leather evening clutch functioned as my every-day purse – but I found it. It was neutral without being dreary. It was spacious without being cavernous. It improved my general appearance without making a mockery of my shoes. I loved and feared it in equal measure. It was simply too…pristine.

The first few weeks, the purse was treated as an honored guest. When I drove, it didn’t rest on the floor but in the passenger seat (it’s possible I buckled it in). At a restaurant, it sat on the table with me, far away from food. I kept expecting it to say, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called this meeting”. It had its own hook in the closet. Each night, I practically tucked it in with a hot-water bottle and good night kiss.

But into every life, some rain must fall. And by life, I mean "new purse", and by rain I mean “wet socks”. Daughter and I were walking through a local Children’s Garden with a substantial water element. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but I certainly wasn’t doing my job as mother, because when I said to her “If you’re going to play in the water, please take off your shoes” it didn’t occur to me to say, “…And also your socks.” I think we were all pretty shocked when Daughter came sloshing out of the fountain, creating her own water park around her. Without comment, she removed her wet socks and handed them to me. Without comment, I bunched them in my hand.

But as the afternoon progressed, Daughter made artwork, and I had to carry that.

Daughter was given a balloon animal, and I had to carry that.

Daughter took off her sweater, and I had to carry that.

I saw a kiosk which sold tea, and you know I had to carry one of those.

But this was the breaking point. I had simply run out of hands and crevices (the balloon giraffe was nestled in my armpit). Something had to give. I looked longingly at my piping hot tea sitting on the counter and at my hand holding the wet socks. I then looked at my pristine purse and thought, Gotta give it up sometime. The little wet socks went right into the purse.

So now, it’s seven months later and my elegant, go-everywhere purse appears to have accompanied Persephone in and out of Hades a few dozen times. The neat geometric corners have collapsed into something which leads strangers to offer advice like “Y’know, they could probably lance that.”

The color had started off as Camel but progressed to Dung.

However, in two days, when the cobbler has worked his magic, it will be camel-colored again.

It will a shapeless, beaten-up, Robitussin-flecked camel-colored purse.

Which smells slightly of little wet socks.

Goody Goody

If you happen to be an adult without a small child, you would be forgiven if you thought the only thing that children took away from attending a birthday party was a juice box/frosting headache. You would, however, be painfully mistaken, because each one of those sugar-cranked cherubs is carrying a goody bag.

I don’t know which mother first decided to make these mandatory, but I need to have a few words with her out behind the Gymboree. So many parts of this ritual irritate me that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, have we decided as a culture that our children are so delicate that they cannot handle the stress of giving a present without receiving something in return?

I will grant you that my daughter does not handle well knowing that her friend is getting something she herself wanted. So, guess what? I alternate between having a Painful But Necessary Learning Experience, where we discuss the true nature of giving, or I wrap the present before she can see it. If she espies the outgoing My Little Pony, and covets it loudly and lamentingly, I crisply inform her she can request is as either a birthday or Christmas present -- her birthday being in summer works well for this, as I have about six months with each.

Of course, I can also tell her that she is going to get a bag full of shiny crap at the party to distract her from the unspeakable horror of not getting every single thing she wants, exactly when she wants it.Which leads me neatly to Gripe #2: If the first three years of the life of a child are about foul-smelling semi-liquids shooting from their bodies on to the floor, the next three years are about wee plastic things, shooting from their hands on to the floor. Every single toy in my child’s room generates at least one element smaller than a quarter that is inconspicuous on the floor yet capable of transforming the arch of my bare foot to a kabob.

I estimate that I spend up to 17% of my waking hours dealing in some way with small plastic accessories. But the place where the plastic doohickeys really thrive is my car. Biology be damned, I know that they are frantically copulating under the mats, doubling in population every two days. And it seems that just when I finally remove enough plastic flotsam from my car to melt down and create Legoland, she attends another birthday party. The bag is given to my daughter, before I can get at it and remove the most egregious elements. She tears it open with the abandon of a frenzied predator. Within minutes, I cannot make a left-hand turn without hearing the pounding surf of gaily-colored plastic crap rolling around under the drivers’ seat.

And then there is Gripe #3: The contents. Opening a gift bag on the ride home should be a simple pleasure, to help wind down from the party, and I dearly wish that it could be so. However, the bag inevitably contains some pesky little surprise. To entertain myself, I have started a game where I pick the most, shall we say, unlikely element in the goody bag. Some past favorites have included: hard-candy balls in the bags made for two year-olds; nail polish; and my personal favorite -- small whistles that make a sound so painful the Geneva convention should be invoked.

More than once I have managed, while driving on the freeway, to reach back and snatch one of those whistles away from my daughter, expecting to see packs of deranged hell-dogs bounding towards our car in the rearview mirror. Her howls of outrage were loud, but my eardrums were already pierced, so it didn’t trouble me much.

I have to inspect the bags that come from any girl-oriented party especially closely, as they inevitably feature some kind of glitter-based cosmetic, and my daughter cannot be counted on to practice restraint. Let me be candid, the beauticians who work at funeral homes have a lighter hand. In her defense, I have done my makeup in the car many a time, and it’s never where you do your finest work. But if I have any hope of taking her somewhere within the next 48 hours that doesn’t involve the words Discotheque or Amateur Nite, she needs to be separated from this fairy dust.

I do have sympathy for the parents who produce goody bags. It’s a neat way to let the guests know “Hey, you’ve eaten pizza, ruined our new sod, and left half-eaten cake under the sink in our guest bathroom. Please go now”.

Hey, maybe it’s just me, but I would really take another hint.

Air horns are festive.

(First printed Feb 18, 2005)

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow.

If punctuality can be said to be pathology, I’m nearly there.

I carry a book with me wherever I go, for reading while I wait for everyone else to arrive. I have seen more caterers set up than a hotel manager. So of course I fell madly, helplessly in love with a man whose relationship with time is…elastic. His brain is like a casino; there are no clocks or windows in there.

This actually affects us less than you might imagine, as we have a small child who takes 648 classes a week, so we rarely spend time together. But last month, we had to be at his nephews’ Bar Mitzvah, across town from us, at exactly 3:30. Miss Punctuality likes words like exactly. This meant that we had to leave no later than 2:30.

1:00 pm - Found Consort at computer, informed him that we were leaving in ninety minutes. He nodded, and continued writing email. I put child in bathtub, watched synchronized swimming as performed by fifteen My Little Ponies, washed her hair, removed her from tub, dried and styled her hair, dressed her in anklets, party shoes, and hair bow. Stuck her in front of video that lasts exactly forty-five minutes, giving me plenty of time to put on the party dress and do final touch-ups on us, gave her a non-stain inducing snack, and told her to not touch her hair. Took refreshing seven-minute shower.

1:30 - Found Consort at computer, apparently writing the same email. Informed him that we were leaving in an hour and that he needed to get into the shower. He nodded. I went out to walk the dog.

1:45 - Returned from walking dog. Consort was writing the same email. I hissed something under my breath that made my daughter yell from across the house “What did you just call Daddy?” Hovered over him and whined until, with a great sigh, he glided into the bathroom. Glanced at daughter, who had removed her bow and was twisting her hair with the same fingers that had been holding cheese slices. Ran for brush. Took four minutes to put on my outfit.

1:45-2:15 - Stupid woman! Stupid woman who forgets that Consort must find out how long the water heater can manufacture hot water! I bounced in twice, reminding him with increasing volume that time actually moves forward. I was informed that he was on his way out, as soon as I left him alone in the bathroom. Being as I am stupid, I went to get the child dressed, and to remove cheese from her hair.

2:20 - Child and I exited her bedroom. She looked exquisite; the cheese had only added to the general shininess of her hair. But where was Consort? At the computer, wearing a robe, putting the final touches on The Lord of the Rings of emails. I stood at the door of the office making guinea-pig sounds until he inched reluctantly towards the bedroom. Having, perhaps, learned my lesson now, I maintained a vigil over him until he was in his pants, his shirt, and was tying his shoes.

2:25 - Looked for child in her bedroom to do final touch-up, but she was missing. Turned out that she was in her closet, covertly eating some candy off of the candy necklace that she had secreted from the last birthday party that she attended. I quickly removed her to the bathroom without allowing her to touch me or herself. Washed her. Checked in on Consort-HE WAS NOT WEARING PANTS!!! We’d lost ground! He was holding up two ties, both of which he liked with this shirt, and neither of which went with the pants that he was wearing, and what did I think? Experience has taught me that anything less than total attention paid to the Tie Issue will lead to him wondering whether it wouldn’t just be better to go to the dry cleaners and get his other suit. Showing my emotions with only the tiniest burst blood vessel in my eye, we calmly debated the merits of the red tie with the yellow blobs over the other red tie with the yellow blobs.

2:35 - We’re all dressed. I was racing for the back door, hustling my family like a deranged Border Collie, when the phone rang. Consort grabbed phone before I could howl, and looked immediately happy. His email colleague wanted to talk about the email. Consort held up the index finger that means “This will just be a minute, two tops”, and then said into the phone “But, this goes back to the original problem we discussed six months ago”. When he and the child were looking away, I covertly held up another finger. Daughter indicated that she was hungry, which makes sense, being as it had been twenty minutes since she ate. She wanted yogurt. Nothing else would do. I wrapped her in a tablecloth and spoon-fed her yogurt. Somehow, we still got some in her hair. I would have wept, except that it would have screwed up my make-up. Make-up!

2:45 - Ran to bathroom to grab make-up. Will apply in car.

2:50 - Daughter was pestering for more television, Consort was wrapping up phone call, I was sitting on the ground in a daze. He hung up, smiled winningly and said “So, let’s get going!”

3:00 - We’re in the car. The key was in the ignition. He turned it, stopped and frowned.“Is it sunny out?”

“Gee, I don’t know." I snarled. "It was when we started leaving the house. But it was also November when we started leaving the house.”

3:02 - He went back into the house to get his prescription sunglasses. Daughter indicated that Daddy should get her a book while he was inside. Only one particular book will do. This shouldn’t take any time at all, considering that my daughter’s room looks like the Library of Congress, if it were staffed by princess-fetishists.

3:10 - We’d gotten the glasses. We had the book. The garage door opened, the car was put in reverse. He stopped. Is his phone in the car? This will be quick, being as it is small and matte black, exactly like everything else he owns. A thorough search of the car produced four more books on princesses and an invitation to a lecture on time-management, but no phone. He ambled inside.

3:20 - It’s so quiet in the car when the ignition isn’t on. You could really hear my teeth grinding.

3:25 - We’re on the road. He took an extra few minutes while hunting for his phone to grab a Motown CD. Consort and daughter were now singing happily in two separate keys, neither of which matched the music. He reached over and took my hand, smiling wistfully.

“I love going places with the two of you. I wish we did this more often”.

(First published Feb 3, 2005)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

Yesterday, I hiked nine miles, half of that up an actual mountain.

I also got my first tick bite.

Oh, and Ursula is back.

Other than that, it’s been quiet.

Monday morning, the woman who had adopted Ursula found me at Daughter’s school. Turns out, their dog, who was supposed to be thrilled to have a new canine companion, didn’t feel quite up for having a sibling who wanted to play incessantly and sleep curled-up right next to her. After a week of threats and feints, the two dogs had come to blows over a bone and Ursula’s third loving mother in three months realized it wasn’t going to work. I asked for a reprieve until Wednesday morning, when Ursula could join me on a training hike for my planned assault on Mount Whitney.

Wednesday morning, Ursula arrived at school with her crate, three new chew toys, a huge bag of food and the pleasant expression of someone who no longer attempts to understand what’s going on. Her former family gave her big hugs and kisses. We transferred her back to my car for Life with Quinn, Version 3.0.

Jill, my hiking partner, and I decided to try our first big hike. We chose a local mountain with a three thousand-foot elevation gain over four and a half miles. Total distance: nine miles. This is a long, steep march. It’s less than half the hike of Whitney, but it’s a start.

As we made our way up the mountain, I stayed anywhere from five to twenty yards ahead of Jill. This had nothing to do with fitness. It had to do with Ursula, who functioned as my personal ski-tow. Also, because Jill has hiked for many years and has a brain in her head, she carried a well-provisioned backpack, adding many pounds. Because I am hugely stupid about nature, I brought not so much as a stick of gum. If I were to climb Everest I’d bring an extra pair of shorts. Maybe.

We were about halfway up the mountain when Jill said, “That’s the fifth tick I’ve found on my shirt.”

Something in my brain froze in horror. If I had been able to jump on a table, hold up my skirts and shriek like a flapper, I would have. I never much liked ticks, what with them being blood-sucking and bristling with disease and all. But last month, Daughter’s class had a field trip to a nature center, where the highlight was an interactive exhibit titled something like: “What To Do When a Tick Is Hanging From Your Eyelid”. During this field trip, I learned the only safe way to remove a tick is by grasping it with a tweezers and pulling in a counterclockwise direction. Gently yet firmly. Any other form of removal can cause the tick to vomit into your bloodstream.

It’s hard to think “Whee!” when confronted with several miles of tick vomit in front of you.

“What…does a tick look like?” I said, attempting a casual tone.

Jill leaned towards me and picked something black and struggling off my tee shirt.

“This,” she said.

My shirt was a bright orange. It immediately occurred to me that a black tick might be somewhat hard to find on my black workout pants. And that a tick could walk, unnoticed, down my pants and leap on to my sock. And from there it’s but a hop, skip and pestilence-ridden jump to my femoral artery.

I tucked my black leggings into my white socks. I tucked my tangerine shirt into my black leggings which I hiked up to my waistline. I was the white-chick Urkel. And so began a new phase of our training:

1. Walk ten paces while obsessively slapping hands up and down legs.

2. Stop and thoroughly check seal between socks and leggings.

3. Stand up again and run fingers furiously through hair.

Having tick-based OCD really adds to your travel time. And we haven’t even gotten to Ursula yet. During one of my sock examinations, I glanced over at her fur. It was fairly undulating with ticks. So, now between Sock Check and Adventures in My Hair, I had to flap my hands ineffectually at the dog, who managed to appear both cheerful and puzzled.

Somehow, we made it to the top, and the view was truly dazzling. This mountain is the highest in the city, which is nothing more than a fact that might win you a drink at a trivia bar until you are sitting at the top, signing the register and looking down on hills you have always thought of as being fairly tall, until now. I leaned against a rock and watched Ursula lapping water from a makeshift water bowl Jill created out of a plastic bag. It was warm in the sun so I reflexively pulled my shirt away from my collarbone to cool off when, under my finger, I felt a tiny bump.

I glanced down at my clavicle. There, digging in with what looked like pure joyful abandon, was a tick. And this is where you find out who your real friends are.

“TICK!” I shrieked.

Jill quickly grabbed a first-aid kit from her backpack and removed a tiny set of tweezers. She leaned over my shoulder murmuring “...counterclockwise... ...counterclockwise...”. Thankfully, she had seen the same tick exhibit. I stared away from my skin and down at Los Angeles. I tried to think about Johnny Depp in “Chocolat”, but it was hard to stay on that when I could feel the tick squirming and Jill tugging and twisting, all the while saying things like, “Get out of there, you stubborn son of a…”

With a small but definite “Pop”, I was no longer a…host. Jill and I stared at the little intruder, legs waving.

“I don’t think it’s engorged,” Julie said.

“So it hadn’t starting drinking me yet. Disease-wise, that’s good, right?”

“I guess.”

The unspoken thought was: ...Unless, of course, it still managed to vomit everything it’s ever eaten into my bloodstream…!

We stared at it. It wriggled. It looked annoyed, if something that small can be said to look annoyed. Of course, if someone tweezered me away from a restaurant just as the bread basket arrived, I’d be pretty salty, too. We squished the tick, and I took advantage of the tweezers being surgically compromised to remove some ticks from Ursula -- the most bloated of which where in her most nether of nether regions. Jill held down her front paws, I counterclockwised a few invaders off her rear end, and Ursula alternately whined and licked the elbow of anyone she could reach.

It took us three and a half hours to hike four-and-a-half miles uphill. It took us an hour to trot four-and-a-half miles downhill. This says something about gravity and momentum but it also says something about my belief that a tick can’t hit a moving target. For future reference, I can do a full-body tick inspection without slowing down from a brisk jog. We got back to our cars and did one final once-over (I think I looked at my ankles more in those four hours than I have in all of my previous life). I thanked Jill profusely for carrying useful things like water and tweezers, and promised never to burden her in quite that way again.

I threw Ursula and myself into the car. The dog that had pulled me up the first half of the trip was so tired she fell asleep before we left the parking lot. On the main road back to the highway, the sound of a big dog barking frantically in the car next to us only brought an ear flick and a sigh.


So, here are my plans for the upcoming weeks:

- Get in several more hikes, but only in operating rooms, microchip assembly plants or morgues. I’ll power-walk around an autopsy before I go chumming for ticks again.

- Give myself a pedicure using Chanel Vamp, the only color which covers bruised toenails.

- Wake up an hour early every morning so I can comb every available Lyme disease website. Long after I’ve stopped checking Ursula, the car and my shoes for ticks, I will lie in bed at night obsessing over whether I’m experiencing normal forgetfulness or Lyme disease-based forgetfulness.

Some athletes go for the burn. I go for the brain decay.